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Environment and History

Nature on the Home Front: British Ecologists' Advocacy for Science and Conservation

Stephen Bocking

Environment and History 18 (2012): 261-281. doi: 10.3197/096734012X13303670112894

In the 1940s British ecologists successfully advocated for establishment of the Nature Conservancy: a national agency that would conduct ecological research, designate and maintain nature reserves and advise on conservation. This initiative was, in part, a response to the political and institutional circumstances of wartime and postwar Great Britain. A corporatist political culture that was receptive to scientific advice, as well as wartime urgency and postwar enthusiasm for planning, assisted ecologists in their advocacy for a new perspective on British landscapes. Prospects for postwar development encouraged agreement that this new perspective was necessary. However, ecologists' advocacy also reflected a new phase in the development of their discipline. By the late 1930s leading British ecologists, such as Arthur Tansley, Charles Elton and William Pearsall were contemplating new approaches to ecological research: a focus on processes and ecosystems and greater use of experiments and long-term observations in the field. They were also shifting their geographical perspective from an imperial orientation to one more focused on the British landscape. These innovations required the conditions - protected areas, stable support for research and autonomy in choice of research questions - that the Nature Conservancy could provide. Thus, ecologists viewed conservation as essential to both the protection of the ecological and aesthetic values of the British landscape and the development and transformation of their research.

KEYWORDS: Ecology, nature conservation, Great Britain, Nature Conservancy, ecosystems


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